Chicago – This is not an easy time to find an immersive Japanese study environment unless you already happen to be in Japan. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has closed its doors to tourists as well as new students and workers. Even if you’re in Japan, close contact with others is not advisable.
All is not lost, though. Thanks to the internet, we can create our own immersive experience. Recently, I’ve found that no app provides an easier, more addictive interface than TikTok, a video-sharing app that has exploded in popularity over the past year.
By curating a set of Japanese creators on your timeline, you can study the language in one-minute bursts. Just try not to get too distracted by the singing and dancing along the way.
Come with me on a tour of Japanese TikTok accounts.
While 指男 (Yubio, literally “Finger Man”; @yubio_finger) doesn’t have the most followers, he has had a oversized impact on the site thanks to his 指パッチン (yubi pacchin, finger snapping), which he uses to play songs. Yubio has amassed 1.7 million followers, and a doppler-heavy video of him running while singing “僕の戦争” (“Boku no Sensō,” “My War”) from the anime “進撃の巨人” (“Shingeki no Kyojin,” “Attack on Titan”) has been viewed 28.1 million times and used as the background sound for over 33,300 videos.
The Japanese creator with the most followers is currently じゅんや (Junya; @junya1gou) with 31.3 million followers. Junya’s main gags are snorting strange things (jello, soft drinks, ketchup) into his nose through giant boba straws, dropping increasingly heavy objects on his hands and muttering nonsense phrases.
There isn’t much Japanese study to be had with Junya, but the Japanese commenters on his videos ask the same questions as English-speaking commenters: 何で公式マークがつかないんだろ… (Nande kōshiki māku ga tsukanai-n daro…, Why doesn’t he have the verified account symbol…). And you have to admire the determination he expresses bilingually in his profile: TikTok王におれはなる!!! (TikTok ou ni ore wa naru, I will be king of TikTok!!!)
For better Japanese study opportunities, we need to find creators actually using the language.
Maribo (@maribo718) is a Japanese woman sharing her daily life in Canada. She provides excellent videos in Japanese with subtitles in Japanese, romaji and English. She makes an effort to provide useful tutorials for students of the language, such as a recent video with language for trying on clothes that introduced phrases like, これを試着してもいいですか (Kore o shichaku shite mo ii desu ka, Can I try this on?) and サイズが合いませんでした (Saizu ga aimasen deshita, It didn’t fit).
If you want to be truly immersed, try watching videos by VTuber, animator and singer P丸様 (P-maru-sama; @p_ma_ru). Her website notes that she mainly puts together 癖になる短編アニメ動画 (kuse ni naru tanpen anime dōga, short, addictive anime videos).
In one video, a woman asks a man what he wants to eat and he annoyingly responds, 何でもいいよ (Nandemo ii yo, Whatever is fine). When the woman gets frustrated, a cartoon dog pops in and suggests providing 二択の例 (ni-taku no rei, a choice of two examples), which makes it more likely to get a specific response. We then get a great example of how to construct such a choice: 肉か魚どっちの気分？ (Niku ka sakana docchi no kibun?, Are you in the mood for meat or fish?)
P丸様 also has a fun set of characters based on 血液型 (ketsuekigata, blood types) that are worth seeking out on TikTok or YouTube.
No tour of TikTok would be complete without hitting some of the app’s main categories: cooking, dancing, couples, artists, cats and disability visibility.
Bodybuilder ハルク君 (Haruku-kun, Hulk-kun; @hulkkun) has drawn attention with his 夜食クッキング (yashoku kukkingu, dinner cooking) series, which he labels with the hashtag 飯テロ (meshi-tero); this literally means “food terrorism” but is better translated as “food porn.” A video of Hulk-kun filling a hot plate dangerously high with ペッパーライス (peppā raisu, pepper-flavor stir-fried rice) has over 23 million views!
新しい学校のリーダーズ (Atarashii Gakko [no Rīdāzu]!; or, New School Leaders in English; @japanleaders) are an infectiously energetic girl group that drew attention from rapper Cardi B on Twitter for their take on a dance over a remix of the song “WAP.”
As with couple accounts in other countries, あざみ夫婦 (Azami fūfu, The Azamis; @azami_micoichi) are a couple that perform mediocre skits and re-create trending videos, but their initial viral video is a pretty funny attempt at バドミントン (badominton, badminton) that quickly goes awry.
柴崎 (Shibasaki; @watercolorbyshibasaki) is the Japanese Bob Ross of TikTok; his videos of 水彩画 (suisaiga, watercolor paintings) and other art are incredibly meditative, and he narrates many of them, ending most with はい、出来上がりです (Hai, dekiagari desu, OK, it’s complete). He’s a highly recommended follow from me.
TikTok needs to work on some issues with racism on the app, but one area where it is doing well is visibility for those with disabilities. Many such creators have been able to increase awareness, and this is true in Japan where かわけい (Kawakei, or KawaK in English; @kawak1110) stylishly raises awareness of amputees with quick outfit changes and studly thirst traps.
After a motorcycle accident left him with a 義足 (gisoku, artificial leg), KawaK was forced to reassess his athletic career as a swimmer. One of his most moving videos takes a common background sound used for fitness glow-ups and shows the work he did to become a パラ競泳 (para kyōei, para-athletic swimming) athlete.
All of these creators are windows into different lifestyles in Japan. There are thousands of other fantastic creators worth seeking out. TikTok has had some PR struggles, so if you’ve been hesitant to join, I would say it’s worth it to see so many unique experiences, some funny, some sad, some moving — but all of them human and truly international.
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